World leaders pay respects ahead of Shimon Peres’s funeral

Ahead of Shimon Peres's memorial service, which will be held on Friday, world leaders have paid their respects to a statesman whose seven-decade career helped lead the country in both war and peace.

Oded Balilty/AP
Former-President Bill Clinton (c.) accompanied by Israel's President Reuven Rivlin (l.) and Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset, pays respects by the coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016.

On Thursday, thousands of Israelis and dozens of foreign leaders gathered in Jerusalem to pay respects to statesman Shimon Peres, whose casket lay in state outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Mr. Peres, who served as both president and two-time prime minister of Israel before he passed away on Wednesday, will be laid to rest on Friday. US President Obama, former-President Bill Clinton, and French President François Hollande are among a vast collection of world leaders who will attend the service.

Ahead of the funeral, world leaders have paid their respects to a man who built his legacy first as a hawk, then a dove, in terms of international diplomacy.

Peres has been lauded for his diplomatic work in the Middle East, over a career that stretched more than 60 years.

"As a young Israeli defense official, Shimon Peres secured arms and technology deals that laid the foundation blocks for his fledgling country’s military might," The Christian Science Monitor's Joshua Mitnick wrote in a retrospective published Wednesday. "Decades later, he championed territorial concessions in peace deals with Israel’s Arab neighbors – becoming the vastly more powerful nation’s best-known dove abroad."

In 1993, Peres worked with Israeli's then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat to broker the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement for which the trio won the Nobel Peace Prize one year later, although the peace they had hoped for was never realized.

Mr. Clinton, who mourned among thousands of Israelis at the Knesset on Thursday, was US president when the Oslo Accords were negotiated. Clinton later organized the 2000 Camp David Summit, where Mr. Arafat and Israel's then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak continued peace negotiations, although the meeting ended without an agreement.

Clinton and his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, called Peres a “true and treasured friend” with Peres's passing.

In a White House statement, Mr. Obama said Peres was “guided by a vision of the human dignity and progress that he knew people of goodwill could advance together.” He praised the late statesman for his robust political career and for his vision of peace, which was “rooted in his own unshakeable moral foundation and unflagging optimism.”

Several Arab nations have also commented on Peres’s passing, despite expectations that many would keep silent. On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked to attend the funeral, submitting a formal request to Israeli officials, Haaretz reports. Khalid al-Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, has also offered tribute. Leaders from Egypt and Jordan, however, the only Arab nations to have signed peace treaties with Israel, are not expected to attend the funeral.

"He’s really the last iconic Israeli," Israeli journalist Ari Shavit told Mr. Mitnick. "He’s the last Israeli to embody the Israeli saga – the establishment the state of Israel, the astonishing success of the state of Israel, and the conflict Israel is stuck in."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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